Died August 29, 1958
Marjorie Flack, was a trifecta author/illustrator - she wrote or illustrated three classic children's books under three different scenarios. All three remain well-known and well-loved today. She was both the author and illustrator of the Angus books, the author of The Story About Ping which was illustrated by Kurt Weise; and the illustrator of DubOse Heyward's classic tale, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes as told to Jenifer. Her life story was not particularly out of the ordinary, but the stories she wrote were.
Story telling was part of her make-up from an early age. As she relates in Junior Book of Authors
Greenport was a beautiful place for a little girl to grow up in. There were beaches of white sand on the Bay and beaches with rock cliffs on the Sound and there was a stretch of woods to walk to where one could find wild flowers and tadpoles and things like that. But when I was very young I can remember being quite sad because as much as I looked I could never find an elf in any of these places.
As far back as I can remember pictures and stories were always an important part of my life. I can remember drawing pictures in the sand, pictures on the walls (and being punished for it) and pictures on every piece of paper I could find. For every picture there would be a story, even before I could write. Most of my pictures and stories were about beautiful princesses and queens and kings and fairies and elves. It was not until I was very much older that I began to notice that there were many things all about me to make drawings of, and that every day things were happening which were as exciting and as wonderful as in any fairy story.
Flack studied art at eighteen at the Art Students League in New York City. It was while studying art that she met the artist Karl Larsson whom she married in 1919 when she was twenty-two. Her first, and only child, a daughter, Hilma, was born the next year in 1920.
As I so often find when researching these Featured Author essays, the experience of parenthood was a major catalyst for Marjorie Flack, both in terms of the decision to write children's stories and the choice of what to write about. In Flack's case, she did not publish her first book until 1928. This book was a collaboration with her friend, Helen Lomen, who had been born and raised in Nome, Alaska. Taktuk; An Arctic Boy is the tale of a traditional Eskimo boy growing up and finding a balance between the modern and traditional worlds. This was one of the very first books about Eskimo children written (and illustrated) specifically for children.
She followed this with an equally well regarded story, All Around the Town: The Story of a Boy in New York, published in 1929. All Around Town is the tale of a boy's ordinary adventures in the extraordinary city of New York, featuring the many aspects of city living best loved by Flack and her daughter Hilma.
It was in 1930, with her third book, Angus and the Ducks, that Flack minted the first of four golden masterpieces. In continuous print for nearly eighty years, this is the tale of Angus, a Scottish terrier and the first in a series of three Angus books, Angus and the Ducks (1930), Angus and the Cat (1931), and Angus Lost (1932). The first tale was based on, as Flack said "a real dog and real ducks." The next two were fictional compilations based on actual events. Interestingly, in researching Angus and the Ducks, Flack became fascinated with the Peking Ducks she used as her subjects in her illustrations of the story and this fascination led to a further story, The Story About Ping, a couple of years later.
In the Angus books, Flack is both the author and illustrator. What has made them enduringly appealing to young children is that the illustrations are simple without being simplistic, the stories are very straightforward and concrete, and that the issues (encountering something new, accommodating others and making new friends in your life, and getting lost) are all very pertinent to young lives. In 1932, Flack also published another long time favorite among children, Ask Mr. Bear a story which she made up for her daughter and to which her daughter contributed over numerous retellings.
Perhaps Flack's most popular story of all, The Story About Ping, came out in 1933. The story relates the adventures of a punishment adverse duckling, Ping. Ping is a young Peking Duck, living with "his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins" on a "wise-eyed boat" on the Yangtze River. Each evening, the ducks are herded back on to the boat, the last duck receiving a whack on his rump. One evening, being somewhat tardy, Ping realizes that he will be the last on board and is entirely unwilling to be the recipient of said whack. He escapes onto the river where he encounters many unpleasant adventures such that when he finds the opportunity to return to his home boat he is relieved to do so and cares not a whit about being whacked for being the last duck back on the boat. The enduring popularity of this story probably can be traced to the simple but engaging story-telling of Flack, the beautiful watercolors of Kurt Weise, the glimpse into an alien land and culture (China) and resonant but unstated moral of the story; no matter how unfair you might think home life might be, it is better than the alternative. In this instance, Flack wrote the story, but asked Kurt Weise, who had lived in China for a number of years, to do the illustrations. With Ping, Flack concluded a remarkable string of five books in the space of four years that have been in almost continuous print since they were first published. But she was by no means done.
Over the next several years, Flack published three or four children's books a year. Her next popular story was in Wait for William in 1935, no longer in print, but long a favorite and describing the predicaments arising from a boy and his struggles to tie his shoes. William is a little boy, left behind by the older children as he struggles to tie his shoes, but whose separation eventually allows him to have the best seat in the parade atop the leading elephant.
Walter the Lazy Mouse (1937) is unfortunately out of print but is frequently mentioned by people as a favorite of their childhood. Walter, based on a real mouse in Flack's studio, tells the story of the evolution of a chronic procrastinator into an attentive, prompt mouse.
In 1939, Flack collaborated with the famous lyricist/composer DuBose Heyward to produce The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes, as told to Jenifer. Attending a conference, Flack one evening overheard Heyward relating a story that he had made up for his daughter, Jenifer. Enchanted, Flack suggested that he should write down the story and she would illustrate it. Heyward produced the text in two hours and Flack then illustrated the tale.
The Country Bunny is a variation of the Easter Bunny tale; however, in this version, Grandfather Easter Bunny needs to select a new rabbit to be one of his five Easter Bunnies who delivers eggs to children around the world and who wears the Little Golden Shoes. Despite the mockery of the more obvious contestants for the role, and despite being the mother of 21 little bunnies, the country bunny, wins the role through her own persistence and with the help and obedience of her well behaved children. This is a great story for reinforcing the importance of never letting go of a dream. Despite having many other stories that he told his young daughter, this was the only one Heyward set to paper and he died within a year of its publication.
Flack wrote nearly a dozen other books before her final one in 1948. The penultimate title, The Boats on the River, a 1947 Caldecott Honor Book, is another one that is unfortunately out of print but frequently mentioned among "Best of All Time . . . " lists.
Although Flack was a good story teller and a good artist, she was not an outstanding practitioner in either field. When she had a good story to tell, as with Angus, she told it well. Her enduring success must be laid in part at the door of superior collaboration. She married twice and across her many books, she authored, illustrated, or collaborated with both her first and then later her second husband, her daughter, her son-in-law and others such as DuBose Heyward.
All her books in print are well worth having in your library and are particularly appropriate as stories to read to your children.
Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack Recommended
Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack Recommended
Angus Lost by Marjorie Flack Recommended
Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack Rcommended
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack Highly Recommended
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and illutrated by Kurt Weise Highly Recommended
Taktuk: An Arctic Boy by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1928
All Around the Town: The Story of a Boy in New York by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1929
Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1930
Knights, Goats, and Battleships: A Story from the Island of Malta by Terry Strickland Colt and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1930
Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1931
Angus Lost by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1932
Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1932
The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese 1933
Wag-Tail Bess by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1933
Humphrey: One Hundred Years along the Wayside with a Box Turtle by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Tim Tadpole and the Great Bullfrog by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Scamper: The Bunny Who Went to the White House by Anna Roosevelt Dall and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Dall Scamper's Christmas: More about the White House Bunny by Anna Roosevelt Dall and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Christopher by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1935
Topsy and Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1935
Topsy by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1935
Up in the Air by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Karl Larsson 1935
Wait for William by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Flack and Richard A. Holberg 1935
What to Do about Molly by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Flack and K. Larsson 1936
Willy Nilly by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1936
Here, There, and Everywhere by Dorothy Keeley Aldis and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1936
Lucky Little Lena by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1937
The Restless Robin by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1937
Walter, the Lazy Mouse by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1937
William and His Kitten by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1938
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, as Told to Jenifer by DuBose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1939
Marionettes: Easy to Make, Fun to Use by Edith F. Ackley and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1939
(With Karl Larsson) Pedro by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by K. Larsson 1940
A Black Velvet Story by Dee Smith and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1940
Olaf, Lofoten Fisherman by Constance Nygaard Schram and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1940
Adolphus; or The Adopted Dolphin and the Pirate's Daughter by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1941
I See a Kitty by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Hilma Larsson 1943
The New Pet by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1943
Neighbors on the Hill by Marjorie Flack and With Mabel O'Donnell and illustrated by Florence and Margaret Hoopes 1943
Away Goes Jonathan Wheeler by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by H. Larsson 1944
The Boats on the River by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum 1946
Happy Birthday Letter by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum 1947